Social Movements: Critical Essay

To get a proper introduction to the subject, I want to intrdouce my topic „Social Movements” by stating that the social movement is a study in connection with the social sciences that is generally trying to explain why these group actions occure, the forms under which they manifests, as well as potential social, cultural and political consequences. More recently, the study of social movements has been subsumed under the study of contentious politics.

“Contentious politics” means episodic, public, collective interaction among makers of claims and their objects when at least one government is a claimant, an object of claims, or a party to the claims.

A historial aspect that is worth mentioning is the figures that were involved in the action. During the early and middle-1900s, sociologist, and in my belief, the general masses thought that these social movements were random reactions of people who were trying to emotionally react to situations that overwhelm their possibilities. The „mass society” hypotheses suggested that the ones who were participating to this movements were the people not totally fit to the society. These psychologically-based theories have been rejected by political scientists, although many still count because of the emotions. There are several works of Neil Smelser or William Kornhauser who have made studies on this theory.

One of the facts that influences the beginning of a social movement is the relative deprivation. In these cases, people, actually the participants of the movement, have inequality reasons, particularly in relation to their expectations and finally to other participants. Firstly, there are the participants who see others having more power, resource, or a higher status and try to acquire the same things for themselves. Secondly, people are most likely to get rebel in acting when an improving situation, economically, stops and makes a turn for the worse. In situations like these, people will join movements because their expectations will have passed their actual material situation (also called the „J-Curve theory”). Other studies are made by James Davies or Denton Morisson in order to analyze these reactions of people and their reasons when joining a social movement.

An another fact that influences the participation to a social movement is the rational choice. People are rational actors who strategically measure the costs and benefits of their actions and choose its course which is most likely intended to maximize their utility. The primary research problem for this perspective of rational choice is the collective action dillema, a problem that is posed by disincentives that tend to discourage joint action by individuals in the pursuit of a common goal. These collective action occurs when a number of people work together to achieve some group goal or comong good. It is mostly about confilcting interests and measuring costs and benefits.

In Theories of Political Protest and Social Movements, Karl-Dieter Opp incorporates a number of cultural concepts in his version of rational choice theory, as well as showing that several other approaches surreptitiously rely on rational-choice assumptions without admitting it.

As we know, any movement that includes participations of people needs organizations. Organizations can acquire resources and then use them properly to achieve their well-defined goals. Some versions of this theory of resource mobilization  see movements operate similar to a capitalist enterprises that make efficient use of available resources. Scholars have suggested a typology of five types of resources: material (money and physical capital) ; moral (solidarity, support for the movement’s goals); social-organizational (social networks); human (volunteers, staff, leaders); cultural (understanding of the issues, know how to enrole in a collective action,etc.). Of course, it does count in what political contexts does those social movements work. These environments may favor or disfavor specific social movements. We have here some examples: increased access to political decision making power; access to elite allies (who can help a movement in its struggle).

The impacts that a social movements has on society is the next step to take. What factors might have led to those impacts? The effects of social movements can resonate on individuals, institutions, cultures or political systems. While political impacts have been studied the most by the researchers, effects on other levels can be counted at least as important as the others. Because Impact Theory has many methodological issues, it is the last studies of the major branches of Social Movement Theory. Neverthless, it has sparked debates on violence, the importance of elite and political allies and the agency of popular movements in general.

New well-known social movements from the United States of America is the OWS (Occupy Wall Street) which is presently spreading in the USA and the Tea Party which is known in the media debates as fake-populist. The Occupy Wall street is a major social movement in which people want to occupy public spaces in solidarity with one another. This movement is solidifying into a serious social movement, one of the most important in civil rights era. Things that make OWS powerful are the fact that it is independent of the corruption that increasingly define the major parties and it also changes the political-cultural values for the masses on a more general level. As most of the social movements should do, OWS expresses the sense that something has gone fundamentally wrong in the USA and that fundamental changes are required to restore the balance, which is one of the major causes social movements occure. Again, this movement appeals to a rising man of Americans who feel that „the system no longer works for them” and who complain that they are getting nowhere despite playling by all the rules and working hard.



In order to conclude, all of these theories and studies that are made on social movements, do not make anything but to develop the sense of this concept and to bring it to another level. The fact that social movements such as OWS are getting enough attention and continually gather participants, does not mean anything, but the fact that people are observing the leaderships’s misconduct and are gathering in order to accomplish their goals.

In my opinion, I think that these social movements are important because they represent us, even that part of us which prefer to watch this movements taking place on the TV. We have to understand that these actions are the ones that might be decisive in decision making, in some situations when other structures could not been applied in order to accomplish our goals and needs a society.



Article Title: Relative Deprivation Approach – Boundless Open Textbook

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Hidi Lorand Ferenc (Journalism 3rd Year)


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